Washington has to make a genuine attempt to help the country’s citizens, only about 10 percent of whom vote fundamentalist. Ending its love affair with Pakistan’s generals would be a big start.There’s one segment of the population missing from Washington’s Pakistan policy: the people of Pakistan.
From the birth of that country in 1947, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has been based on investing in those leaders who are seen as most likely to do Washington’s bidding. Unfortunately for Pakistani citizens, this has usually meant a repressive general. The latest in this line is Pervez Musharraf.
U.S. policy is partly to blame for the current tragedy in Pakistan. The Bush Administration encouraged the return of Benazir Bhutto. Desperate to provide a democratic veneer to Musharraf’s rule, the United States—through the strenuous efforts of Condoleezza Rice and John Negroponte—brokered a power-sharing arrangement. Musharraf would have retained the presidency, with real control over security matters in his hands, and Bhutto would have been allowed to participate in parliamentary elections in the hope of being elected prime minister.
Even before Bhutto’s assassination, Musharraf’s declaration of martial law had made their political cohabitation unlikely. Her killing ended any chance that Musharraf would usher in a meaningful power-sharing arrangement.
Strangely enough, some U.S. officials are hoping against hope now for an understanding between Musharraf and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a wish that’s almost laughable. Sharif tried to have Musharraf killed in 1999, and Musharraf came to power by ousting him.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has not cured Washington of its infatuation with Musharraf and the army that has ruled and ruined the nation. (As a popular saying in Pakistan goes, three As dominate the country: Allah, America, and the Army.)
At the very least, Bhutto’s assassination points out serious lapses in the security around her. But many in Pakistan believe that the government itself was involved. And on PBS’s NewsHour, a Bhutto confidant and adviser, Mark Siegel, revealed that she had sent him an e-mail stating that Musharraf should be personally held responsible if she were killed.
That’s the last thing Bush is doing.
He has gone along with Musharraf’s decision to postpone the elections to February, and a couple of months ago praised him as “truly somebody who believes in democracy.” But how can these elections be fair when Musharraf the dictator is supervising them and when there is no recourse to an impartial judiciary, since all the independent-minded supreme court justices are under house arrest? Even before Bhutto’s assassination, veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid asserted on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air program that the election results would be electronically manipulated in Musharraf’s favor.
This indulgence toward Musharraf continues a pattern since 9/11. Ever since the White House forced Musharraf to make a choice between the Taliban and the United States (in an ultimatum, Musharraf alleges, delivered by then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage), Pakistan has been stringing the United States along. True, Pakistan has handed over some Al Qaeda operatives, and has half-heartedly deployed troops on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
But at the same time, it has been hosting the Taliban leadership in the province of Baluchistan, the same Taliban forces that have been attacking U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, causing a record 110 U.S. casualties last year alone. Musharraf himself has winked at the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. He plays footsie with fundamentalist parties, seeing them as a counterweight to Bhutto’s and Sharif’s. And cynically he knows that if some fundamentalists engage in terror, that will make Washington even more dependent on him.
“Mr. Musharraf is a strong ally in the war against these extremists,” Bush has said. “He’s been a valuable ally in rejecting extremists. And that’s important—to cultivate those allies.” Dick Cheney has also called Musharraf a “great ally.”
The United States has provided as much as $20 billion to Pakistan since 9/11, $10 billion in overt funds and perhaps as much as $10 billion, if not more, in covert funding, according to Derek Chollet and Craig Cohen at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
In keeping with Washington’s stance of ignoring the people of Pakistan, less than 10 percent of the overt aid has gone toward developmental efforts, while the vast majority has gone for reimbursing the Pakistani army and government for supposed expenses incurred for anti-terrorist operations and for security and budgetary assistance. A grand sum of $1.16 per Pakistani child per year has been dedicated to education, Chollet and Cohen point out.
“Billions of U.S. dollars are provided without an overall perspective or any real sense of objective aside from support to Pakistan’s military,” write Chollet and Cohen. “This absence of a long-term strategy is especially disconcerting considering how tenuous the premise of U.S. policy—Musharraf as the guarantor of stability in Pakistan—actually is.”
The Pakistani army, for its part, has been laughing all the way to the bank. When it has not been overcharging by as much as 30 percent, it has been buying weapons systems to use against India, according to a recent exposé in The New York Times.
Once again, the United States is on the wrong side. Its policy toward Pakistan has badly damaged the U.S. reputation among the people of that country. And it has caused the Bush Administration to take some curious stances.
For instance, Pakistan has in the past year witnessed a remarkable nonviolent protest movement led by lawyers with the goal of reinstating supreme court justices that were sacked by Musharraf for being too independent. But the Bush Administration has not shown support for this movement due to its indulgence of Musharraf.
The United States has been down this road in Pakistan before. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Carter and Reagan Administrations entered into an alliance with the loathsome General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Zia made sure that the funding provided by the CIA was routed to the most hardline elements of the mujahedeen, elements that were the precursor to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. In a new book, Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons, British journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark allege that the United States even acquiesced in Pakistan’s nuclear program from the late 1970s onward, a program that is Washington’s biggest nightmare in Pakistan now.
Instead of reprising such disasters, the United States needs to nurture a pro-people policy. The Pakistani state has abysmally failed to provide basic services such as education and health. If the Bush Administration stepped into the breach, this would diminish the attraction of militant madrassas and religious parties. It would also make the United States more popular.
When Washington engaged in reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in the world, approval of the United States in that country rose from 15 percent in May 2003 to 44 percent in January 2006. (Unfavorable ratings among Indonesians of the United States correspondingly dropped from 48 percent to 13 percent.)
Washington has to make a genuine attempt to help the country’s citizens, only about 10 percent of whom vote fundamentalist. Ending its love affair with Pakistan’s generals would be a big start.